Defense attorneys who specialize in marijuana cases have taken to calling SB 5073, the gutted version of Washington's medical-pot overhaul, their "retirement plan" because it leaves so many loopholes for law-enforcement officials to arrest and prosecute patients, growers, and dispensary operators. But perhaps those attorneys shouldn't buy that condo in Phoenix just yet.
A class-action lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Western Washington, seeks an injunction from a federal judge to keep SB 5073 from being enacted on the grounds that it's unconstitutionally vague and that "tens of thousands" of Washington pot patients will be arrested if (or when) it becomes law on July 22.
The suit was filed last Friday, June 24, by Steve Sarich, the polarizing Seattle dispensary owner and pot activist. He claims to represent an unknown number of "similarly situated persons" who stand to be adversely affected by the new law.
"Tens of thousands of Washington State citizens will be entrapped by less charitable jurisdictions," Sarich writes in one court filing, "which will no doubt take advantage of the vagueness of the Washington State Medical Cannabis Act's lack of clear guidance on the issue of whether the current [patient] authorizations would be valid under the new Act."
Reached this morning, a spokesman for Gov. Christine Gregoire said he was unaware of any legal challenge to the new law and could not comment until he had a chance to review the court filings. The governor vetoed 36 sections of the bill, which was narrowly approved by the legislature earlier this year.
Sarich tells Seattle Weekly that he started building his court case a few weeks ago when the state's Board of Pharmacy denied his petition to change marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled substance. He claims that by haphazardly striking sections of the law, Gregoire created a confusing, self-contradictory law that includes no arrest protections from patients as lawmakers intended, and leaves the door open for prosecutors to aggressively pursue medical-marijuana patients even if they have a doctor's approval to use the drug.
"The law has to read so that the common man can understand very specifically the definition of the law, especially if you can end up in jail for not following it," Sarich says. "Right now, I don't know whether or not we'll be legal, and I suspect prosecutors across the state don't either . . . The way this bill reads, it appears we'll only be legal if we have a medical-cannabis authorization, and right now the bill doesn't even define what medical cannabis is. That's huge."
Sarich argues that the new law is "so vague and confusing that it would violate the Due Process Clause, the 14th Amendment." He writes:
In reading the remarks made by the Governor Gregoire, it is clear that the intent of the veto of the majority of SB 5073 was not to overly restrict medical marijuana use but to protect state employees from federal charges. Unfortunately in the process of removing those sections of the bill which would allegedly put state employees in jeopardy of federal criminal charges, the bill that remained was left unworkable and unconstitutional, without a definitions section in the Act it is now bereft of clear definition as to what is medical cannabis under the remaining orphan bill . . .
. . . [The law] does not explain if the current medical marijuana authorization form has to be re-named to a medical cannabis authorization form. Without this explanation or new form requirement, Washington State medical marijuana patients with medical marijuana authorizations would no longer have valid documentation according to the Washington State Medical Cannabis Act as of July 22, 2011, and could be subject to arrest and prosecution.
Read the full court documents below, and check back on The Daily Weekly as this story develops. SB 5073 Legal Challenge